More Rights Not Games

The Rights Not Games protest in the previous post was the start of a week of actions by DPAC and others protesting in the cuts in benefits for the disabled.

The following day I began outside the British Medical Association headquarters at Tavistock Square, where Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group were protesting. They want doctors to confront the government over medical evidence from GPs being dismissed by Maximus fitness for work assessors working for the DWP, almost all of whom lack appropriate medical knowledge, and also for the BMA to stop advising GPs to charge patients for the letters they need to take to Work Capability Assessments. More at BMA Work Fitness Assessments protest.

From Tavistock Square I traveled to Bromley South, on the south-east edge of London, for a Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC ) and Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) protest at Bromley Job Centre Plus, which was supported by Bromley Cuts Concern and local trade unionists.

Many benefit claimants have their benefits stopped for various lengths of time for arbitrary and often trivial reasons, and job centre employees often (if not always) have targets set to encourage them to implement these ‘benefit sanctions’.  If your bus or train to get to the job centre is late or canceled and you arrive a few minutes late, you will be sanctioned. If you argue a lot you can also be sanctioned. If your father dies and you try to re-arrange an appointment to attend his funeral, or you child is sick and needs taking to hospital, your request will probably be refused – and if you go to the funeral or hospital you will be sanctioned – and so on.

Bromley Job Centre Plus has the second highest record for sanctions of job centres in Greater London – over the last 2 year period for which figures were available, 7, 524 claimants lost their benefits for various periods of time – including many for the longest allowed period of 3 years.   Between 2010 and 2015, almost a quarter of claimants were sanctioned at least once. These sanctions leave people destitute and desperate, and have led to a number of deaths though starvation or suicide and are clearly incompatible with a civilised society.

Denise McKenna from the Mental Health Resistance Network holds up the letter to staff at Bromley Job Centre Plus

The National Audit Office has reported that the Dept of Work & Pensions has not done enough to find why some job centres – like Bromley – sanction a far greater percentage of clients than others, and has called for a fuller inquiry into the effects of sanctions – which according to The Guardian the NAO report shows to be an “ineffective and hugely damaging racket” by Iain Duncan Smith.

Denise McKenna from MHRN invites me to go in with her to deliver a letter to the Job Centre Plus staff explaining the reasons for the protest but I get asked to leave when I photograph her handing it over. I understand that managers at the centre did not allow other staff to see the letter.

As well as their terrible record over sanctions, a worker at the Bromley job centre recently rang a claimant and left a message on her answerphone, but failed to ring off, and also recorded there a conversation with a fellow job-centre worker about the claimant, in which she referred to her as “some scrounging bastard that’s popping out kids like pigs“. Several claimants and their friends stopped to join in the protest and to tell people about the disgraceful treatment they had received in the job centre.

DPAC at Bromley Job Centre


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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